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United States

Minnesotans given choice too

If approved by state regulators, "green pricing" would offer wind power to thousands of customers served by two rural electricity co-operatives in Minnesota, not far from the wind farms of Buffalo Ridge.

Wind energy will be at the core of the latest "green pricing" scheme to be announced in America. If approved by state regulators, it would offer clean power to thousands of customers served by two rural electricity co-operatives in Minnesota, not far from the burgeoning wind farms of Buffalo Ridge. Green pricing seems to be a phenomenon taking off as the US electricity energy market is deregulated and utilities position themselves as distinctive and responsive to consumers.

Dakota Electric Association of Farmington, Minnesota, and Co-operative Power (CP), based in Eden Prairie, want to offer preimum priced green power from renewables -- in actuality, wind power -- starting on March 31. Dakota Electric (DE) has more than 75,000 customers and is one of 17 small non-profit distributors that buy electricity from CP.

"Dakota Electric's decision to investigate renewable energy with Co-operative Power was motivated by our desire to meet our customers' needs," says Nathan Huso, the co-operative's marketing supervisor. "We knew that interest in renewable resource energy was increasing and a random survey of our customers in October 1996 indicated that a significant number of Dakota Electric consumers were willing to pay for the benefits of energy from renewable resources."

The electricity would be made available in 100 kilowatt hour blocks -- and consumers could sign up and buy as many blocks as they wish, up to their normal monthly usage, as long as they commit for 12 months. The cost of each block would be just a few extra dollars monthly, says DE.

The announcement underscores the Midwest state's position at the centre of wind development in the US. Indeed, as many as four other rural electric co-operatives in Minnesota are already expressing an interest in following suit. DE will soon start a subscription campaign for participants, if the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission approves the idea.

"This is a pilot project, with Dakota Electric taking the first steps in this exciting new direction," says Will Kaul, CP's director of environmental services. "I am confident that this programme will grow rapidly."

"By providing optional renewable energy programmes, we're providing a product that consumers want and is beneficial to the environment," Kaul adds. "We're also working together to position our co-operatives as energy suppliers of choice in what may be a more competitive market place." Other CP member distribution co-operatives interested in the renewable energy option programme are McLeod Co-operative Power Association in Glencoe; Federated Rural Electric Association in Jackson; Minnesota Valley Electric Cooperative in Jordan; and Frost-BENCO-Wells Electric in Mankato.

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